The Texas Rangers are perhaps the most fascinating team of the 2016 Major League Baseball season.
There's usually not a lot of depth to a team that is 87-59, leading their respective league and producing the second-best record in all of baseball. Meaning, it's usually pretty evident as to why they're good. This is a team that should be a true World Series contender.
But when looking at the postseason odds, especially the chance to win the World Series, the Rangers are listed sixth, with a 9.0 percent chance to win it all.
Don't go straight to blaming the sabermetric community for this. The Texas Rangers are actually not that good.
One of the most effective ways to measure a team's success and sustainability is through run differential. Quite plainly, run differential takes the amount of runs a team scores and subtracts out the amount of runs they've allowed.
This is a great, all-inclusive stat because it boils baseball down to its two most simple concepts: scoring and preventing runs. Obviously, the best teams should be able to score the most and allow the least of runs.
Take the Cubs, for instance. The Cubs' run differential is +227 through 144 games, a good 57 runs above the second-place Red Sox (!!!). For some context, the Cubs are on pace to post a +255 run differential. The best run differential of all time, though, is +411 by the 1939 Yankees. Though they won't beat it, this Cubs team is historically good.
Now, looking at the Rangers, it would be expected to see something similar, though perhaps not as extreme. However, that's not quite the case.
The Rangers have just a +23 run differential this season, which ranks them 12th in the Major Leagues and seventh in the American League. The Rangers have a worse run differential than the Mariners (+54) and Astros (+36) and yet are ahead of those teams by 9 1/2 and 11 1/2 games, respectively.
The Rangers are on pace to post a +26 run differential this season, making them similar to the 2015 Indians (+29) who finished 81-80. The 2016 Rangers already have a better record. For the year prior, the Royals posted a +27 run differential and finished 89-73. But the Rangers need to just win three games to beat that team, too.
(Interestingly enough, the Rangers posted just a +18 run differential in 2015 and won the AL West.)
So how do the Rangers manage to win all these games, when, in theory, they should not?
Well, it's quite simple actually. The Rangers are 33-10 in one-run games. These are occurrences where the Rangers pick up a win but only improve their run differential by one run. One-run games are often considered to have elements of luck. One base hit that was caught when the game is on the line could change the entire result of a game. On the contrary, if the Rangers blew out a team, that result would happen regardless if a base hit late in the game was taken away by a defensive gem.
No other team in baseball has more than 27 one-run wins this season, with most teams hovering around .500, which should be expected.
Remember the Phillies' "hot" start, when they went 15-10 in their first 25 games? Well, they were 8-2 in one-run games to begin the year. Since? The Phillies are 18-18.
The thing with the Rangers, though, is that they manage to sustain amount of one-run wins, though seemingly improbable. Why is this the case?
The first thing to come to my mind was their bullpen. A good bullpen usually equates to shutdown success late in games, especially late in close games (think the Royals). However, though, the Rangers' bullpen is quite poor, ranking 24th in the Majors in fWAR and posting the fourth-highest ERA.
So, maybe it's hitting in high leverage situations? Maybe the Rangers have a nose for the "clutch," allowing them to get key hits in situations where the game is on the line.
And you know what? The stats back this theory up. The Rangers have an .822 OPS this season in situations that are considered "high leverage," (good for second in the Major Leagues) whereas they have just a .760 OPS overall. This may be due to having the fourth-highest BABIP in high leverage situations overall. The Rangers are getting lucky time and time again.
It's not even as if they are making hard contact with the game on the line, ranking 21st in hard hit rate in these high leverage situations. They are, though, posting the second-highest line drive percentage, and line drives are the most likely batted ball to become hits.
So as the Rangers conclude their 2016 season and ride into the playoffs, they might just be doing that with lots of luck on their side.
**All stats are through Tuesday, September 13**
Minnesota Twins outfielder Byron Buxton has gone from Double-A to the Major Leagues to Triple-A to the Major Leagues to Triple-A to the Major Leagues to Triple-A and back to the Major Leagues once again since the beginning of 2015.
Buxton, who was the consensus No. 1 prospect in all of baseball prior to the 2014 season, has almost been like a card in a deck, being shuffled constantly.
It has got to be frustrating for him. His longest stint in the Major Leagues over the past two years was a 169-plate appearance run he received from May 31 to August 5 of this year, not nearly enough time to adjust to big league pitching, a huge step up from Triple-A.
In one respect, it's somewhat ridiculous that the Twins have not allowed him to work through the growing pains of being in the Major Leagues at age 22. It's not like they're contending and he's hurting their playoff chances. The 2016 season for the team should be one to see the future, and if Buxton is down in Triple-A for more than half the year, they aren't doing things right.
Granted, with all that hype, Buxton's big league career has been uneventful to say the least, and that may be an understatement. In 356 plate appearances at this level, he's hit .199/.248/.319 with three home runs and 22 RBI. He has not been able to showcase his 80-grade speed either, with just 11 stolen bases in 14 attempts.
A lot of this, at least in my mind, is on the Twins. But there becomes a point where a player has to start figuring things out in order to make it work in the Majors.
Call me crazy, but this September call up is going to be the time where we see the Buxton that was picked with the second overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft.
And it's a small sample--in fact, it's the smallest possible sample there is--but Buxton hit a second-deck home run in his first at bat back, taking a 1-2 off-speed pitch from Jose Quintana and driving it 388 feet with a 97 MPH exit velocity. He's only made harder contact 20 times in his entire career, according to Brooks Baseball.
Buxton has had two at bats since. His next time at the plate, he flew out to Adam Eaton. His exit velocity? 100 MPH off the bat. Then, in his third at bat, he also flew out to Eaton, and his exit velocity was once again 100 MPH.
Prior to his demotion to Triple-A this year, Buxton had an 89.76 MPH average exit velocity. Already, in just a short sample, he's making harder contact. And if he can continue to just make contact over the course of September (Buxton has a tendency to strike out a lot), he'll be getting a lot more hits.
Quite plainly, Buxton has come back to the Majors and is crushing the ball in three at bats. While, yes, it's just three at bats, it could be a sign of things to come.
Over the next month, in the midst of the pennant chases, award races and everything else baseball has to offer, I'm going to be watching Buxton, who could be on the verge of a breakout.